An article in the November issue of Working Mother discusses the research and ideas behind using the birth control pill to totally suppress menstrual periods. The normal procedure has been to take the pill for 21 days, and then have 7 days without, allowing for bleeding to take place, a kind of artificial menstrual period.

Now there is research being done which if accepted by the FDA could lead to the prescription of the pill being taken continuously to avoid having periods all together or at the most to have 3-4 periods a year.

Part of the logic behind this thinking is that women have more periods now than ever before. It mentions that children often begin their periods as early as 9-10 years of age, and with many women delaying having children until their thirties and then often having only 1-2 children, there is increased hormonal "wear and tear" from repeated menstrual cycles.

The article is interesting in that it articulates the position that relieving women of menstrual periods may prevent many period related diseases, especially ovarian and uterine cancer. It suggests that having too many periods may increase the likelihood of ovarian or uterine cancer. The article does give the alternative opinions of some doctors in the field who question the logic and science behind this thinking, citing there is no evidence as yet supporting these theories, but all in all one feels the article slants in favor of the former opinion.

There is truth in the fact that in the past women would be having more children and therefore would be having less periods and that this is one factor that can prevent cancer in women. However, as with the use of many drugs, how do we really know the implications of taking hormones continually to regulate and suppress menstrual cycles.

The article suggests that the pill may benefit women who want to have children when they are older, as "anytime you stop ovulation, youre preserving eggs,which improves the chance for reproductive success in later years." Do we really know that? Could it not also be the opposite, where after taking the pill for many years, it may be harder to become pregnant. Apparently not, according to some experts quoted in the article.

We already know that taking the pill can increase the risk of blood-clotting problems and also for stroke and heart disease in those at risk, and as the article also mentions, it can be risky for women suffering from migraines or hypertension, or those that smoke over the age of 35 or have liver disease. There is also controversy over whether the pill increases the risk of breast cancer. Apparently not, according to the Centers for Disease Control, but it has to be said that the explosion in breast cancers in general may well have a hormonal link to them, including the use of the pill over the last 30 years.

Already the pill is being actively used by doctors in women over 40 years of age, to treat menstrual disorders. The logic is to control the hormones through the 40s and then lead people straight into hormone replacement therapy as they go through the menopause.

It has to be questioned whether this is just seeing menstruation and menopause as pathological processes that need to be controlled and manipulated by medicine, a symptom of patriarchal medicine on the female body. Or is it just the application of benign science to assist us in dealing with the bodys limitations.

The fact is, for some women, the pill is a nightmare, for others it is a great experience. Taking hormones to deal with the difficulties of menstruation or menopause is one way to deal with it, but it is by no means the only one. Look at natural alternatives as well. There are many ways to help with difficult menses naturally. Drugs arent the only way to go.